by Jeff Mullins 17/04/12
There are a couple of cars from the 1980’s that stand out as icons for individual reasons, all gaining notoriety for a characteristic that was not inherent in the class they competed in. At one end there was the Audi Quattro, with its huge rallying ability and pioneering four-wheel-drive system; it cemented the reputation of the Volkswagen Group luxury brand and is partially responsible for its success today. The Peugeot 205 was another, with its chic French style and nimble handling; it quite literally saved the fortunes of the company that produced it. The 124 Series E-Class from Mercedes-Benz on the other hand was a strong sensible car that was typical of the generations that it succeeded, featuring a ‘hewn from granite’ like build quality and a bullet proof range of engines. Over a twelve year production run that saw the launch of a saloon (W124), estate (S124), coupe (C124) and latterly a convertible (A124), the time came in 1995 for successor to bow in and take over the reins as the mid-range car in the Mercedes-Benz line-up. ‘W210’ was to be the model designation for this new car and its task was to replace the saloon and estate models of the 124 range, while a C-Class based coupe and convertible that we now know as the CLK would take over from the two door models in 1997/1998. There was no doubt that this car had a tough act to follow.
The W210 E-Class range initially consisted of petrol and diesel engines that were carried over from the W124 Series in slightly updated form. At the bottom of the range were two four cylinder variants of the M111 engine; the E200 featuring a relatively modest 134bhp and the E230 producing 150bhp with a slight boost in torque over its E220 predecessor. These two units are largely reliable, with head gasket failure being the only suspicious problem on the 2.3 litre. Further up the range the M104 straight six saw service for a couple more years and lived out its final days in this model in both 2.8 litre and 3.2 litre configurations (194bhp and 220bhp respectively in the E280 and E320 models). These are quite similar to the four cylinder units in their construction and are robust despite the odd bit of head gasket trouble. Diesel power came from the OM604, OM605 and OM606 in-line engines (the last digit referring to the cylinder count). These powered the E220, E250 and E300 in both turbocharged and normally aspirated form, although the E300 would not become turbocharged until 1997. Being remnants left over from the golden era of Mercedes-Benz quality, they are very strong and can regularly be seen approaching seven figure mileages in taxis on the continent.
In 1996, the E36 AMG arrived as the performance model. In what was a tuned variation of the M104 straight six, it delivered a Nissan Skyline matching 276bhp and was the main performance model until 1998 in most markets. Towards the end of this year saw the arrival of the capacious estate model, featuring the usual unprecedented luggage space seen in E-Class wagons. In late 1997 a new range of V6 engines (M112) replaced the units that saw service in E230 and E320 models up until that time. Gone was the 2.3 litre four cylinder in the E230 and in came a bigger 2.6 litre V6 (E26) with 170bhp and 177 lb ft of torque, resulting in the misleadingly named ‘E240’. A 3.2 litre version of this engine (E32) then slotted in at the top of the range and gave 218bhp in addition to 232 lb ft of torque. It was the first time Mercedes experimented with V6’s and they have continued to use them up to this day. Like most Merc engines, they are chain driven and largely reliable with the exception of one part known as the harmonic balancer. These are essentially a damper for the crankshaft which reduce vibration and are known to disintegrate, causing major damage to the timing as well as other ancillaries. There was a fix implemented by Mercedes free of charge on some cars, but it was never said to have fully cured the problem.
In 1998, two new range toppers arrived in the form of the E430 and E55 AMG. These featured the new M113 V8 engine in both 4.3 litre and 5.5 litre capacities. The comfort oriented E430 delivered 279bhp and 295 lb ft of torque, while the performance E55 AMG produced 342bhp and a considerable 376 lb ft. The following year, a facelift for the range was announced in June. Featuring repositioned headlamps, a smoother bonnet and bumpers as well as different rear light clusters, it also adopted the wing mirror integrated side repeaters that were an innovation on the W220 S-Class and are now commonplace on today’s cars. Internally, there was a subtly restyled interior with new multi-function steering wheel and a restyled centre console for the facilitation of the optional ‘Comand’ navigation/multi-media system. Standard equipment now included ESP, traction control, side window air bags and partial electric front seat adjustment. The 161bhp supercharged E200 Kompressor became the new entry model and a new range of diesel engines were implemented featuring common-rail technology. These consisted of an updated version of the then-new E220 CDi common-rail with a 12bhp boost in power to 143bhp and variable geometry turbocharger, the 170bhp 5 cylinder E270 CDi and the range-topping six cylinder E320 CDi delivering 197bhp (Autocar, 1999). This facelift largely saw the 210 Series E-Class through until 2002 when it was replaced by the W211.
Up to now, I am sure this review of the W210 E-Class has painted a picture of a car that is quite dependable and not without the MB qualities of old. This is however not the case, as most of the issues attributed to this model revolve around the cost saving production measures Mercedes implemented on its models at the time. The engineers unfortunately lost their battle against the accountants in the development of this car and this can be seen through the unacceptable levels of rust seen on even the very last production models. This is also attributed by some to a poorly managed switchover from oil to water based paint. Commonly affected areas are on the doors and around the boot lock, with more serious cases being corroded front strut tower perches leading to collapsed suspension.
Window regulators are also an issue on W210’s, so it is worth checking all windows operate as they should with no obvious signs that indicate that they are anything less than in perfect working order.
The W210 E-Class is considered a rather old car now, with two generations having passed since it finished production. With our ridiculous and illogically thought out road tax system for pre 2008 cars in this country, anything above an E200 can be had for buttons, diesels included. Despite various asking prices in excess of two thousand euro, 1.5k should be enough to buy you a very presentable E200 Kompressor/E240 V6 that dates from a little past the turn of the century.